Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Portland Winterhawks

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After finishing the week with five of six points, the Portland Winterhawks have climbed up to number seven in the latest Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.

Counting wins against the number three ranked Everett Silvertips and Tri-City Americans before falling in a shootout to the Seattle Thunderbirds, the Winterhawks improved to 22-6-1-3 on the season, good for 48 points and second place in the WHL’s U.S. Division.

Leading the way for the Winterhawks in 2019-20 is third-year centre and New York Islanders draft pick Reece Newkirk, who through 30 appearances has tallied 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points. Currently riding an eight-game point streak in which he has collected six goals and six assists, Newkirk has been a consistent offensive presence for Portland this season as on just six occasions he has been held off the scoresheet. Newkirk has also notched eight multi-point efforts, including Friday’s one-goal, two-assist showing against the Silvertips that saw him register the overtime winner after factoring in on the other two tallies in the 3-2 final that earned him first-star recognition.

Other key offensive contributors for the Winterhawks include 17-year-old centre and 2020 NHL Draft hopeful Seth Jarvis, a projected second- or third-round selection per NHL Central Scouting’s latest Players to Watch report. Sitting second in team scoring with 33 points across 29 appearances, Jarvis is closely trailed by veteran forward Jake Gricius who is also above a point-per-game pace in recording 12 goals and 21 assists through 32 appearances. Rounding out the forward ranks, the Winterhawks have also seen an impressive first season from Swiss-born right-wing Simon Knak, the club’s top pick from the 2019 CHL Import Draft who has amassed 18 points in 25 contests.

The Winterhawks’ offensive prowess is most evident on the man advantage where the club owns a third-best efficiency of 24.8%, while the club is equally impressive when shorthanded as it has killed off 87.9% of its penalties, good for second best in the WHL. In all, six Portland skaters have at least three power-play markers on the season, while captain and Florida Panthers prospect Johnny Ludvig leads the way 14 power-play points.

With 26 points on the season, Ludvig sits fourth in team scoring while also topping all Portland blue-liners offensively. Earlier this month, Ludvig notched a career high when he finished with three points counting one goal and two assists in a 5-4 overtime victory versus the Prince George Cougars in which he claimed second-star honours.

On the back end, the Winterhawks also receive strong offensive contributions from the likes of third-year rearguard Clay Hanus, who is on pace for a career year after notching 14 points through the first 32 contests of 2019-20, followed by Danish defender Jonas Brondberg, another selection from the 2019 CHL Import Draft who has made a seamless transition in skating in his first season on North American ice as he has tallied a modest nine points through 25 games.

Perhaps Portland’s biggest star, not only in his 6’5’’ frame, is goaltender Joel Hofer, a St. Louis Blues prospect and Winnipeg native, hopes to play a key role for Team Canada in the upcoming IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

With the Winterhawks, Hofer has been a top performer this season as he owns an incredible 20-4-1-1 showing through 27 appearances alongside a .937 save percentage and a league-leading 1.81 goals-against average. Surrendering just one regulation loss in his last 12 appearances, that stretch has seen Hofer record three shutouts including a Dec. 7 contest against the Cougars in which he turned aside 25 shots en route to a 3-0 victory and second-star recognition.

Appearing in all but five games for the Winterhawks this season, Hofer has undoubtedly been the squad’s most valuable player.

“That’s a heavy load for (Hofer), but he seems to be able to handle it,” Winterhawks general manager and head coach Mike Johnston told Paul Danzer of the Portland Tribute prior to Hofer leaving for Canada’s camp. “We really think he’s playing well and in a groove. Rather than give him a day off, we thought we’d keep him in a groove and he heads out on a positive note.”

With a dominant presence in the blue paint, a budding blue line, plus a wealth of scorers up front, the Winterhawks have emerged as one of the top teams in the West as the season reaches the holiday break. Upon return, the Winterhawks will look to continue their winning ways versus the Americans before a home-and-home series versus the Thunderbirds to close out 2019.

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